Maybe I’m just a sucker for romance, but there’s nothing more thrill-inducing than developing a new crush. Of course, that thrill can either be heightened or dampened by your crush happening to be one of your coworkers. Sure, a "work wife" or "work husband" is fine. But what about actual romantic feelings in the workplace? Like for real? Even if there’s flirty energy via Slack or tenderness in your latte runs, you’ve probably told yourself, "Nope, not gonna pull on that thread." If you’re wondering if dating a coworker is OK, well, there is a sliver of hope.
If you’re second-guessing whether you should shoot your shot, you might be surprised to know that dating or sleeping with a coworker is actually fairly common. In fact, a February 2019 study from job site Vault.com shows that 58% of employees have been in a relationship with a colleague. (And another 18% reported at a random hookup with a coworker.) What’s more is that 72% of respondents said they would have an office romance if simply given the chance.
While tricky, dating someone you work with doesn’t have to be a complete disaster. Here are seven things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about wooing your work crush.
What’s your workplace’s stance on dating?
If you think about it, it makes a whole bunch of sense why you’d develop feelings for someone you work with: You spend so much time together! Between staff meetings, happy hours, and collaborating on projects each day, you really get to know someone. And develop a crush on them.
While falling for a colleague may seem only natural, says Dana Goren, head of human resources at HR tech company Hibob, "It is important to be cautious when entering this type of relationship." The first issue that might come up is your company’s policy on romantic and sexual relationships between employees. Some companies straight-up ban any type of relationship. Other workplaces allow them, but there are guidelines in place about what kind of relationships and behaviors are and aren’t OK. Make sure you read the fine print!
"You do not want to put your job in jeopardy," Goren warns. "So it is best to thoroughly review each policy, and [it] can even be helpful to talk to managers or HR team members if the policies are not clearly spelled out."
And more than the rules on the books, take the temperature of your office. In Goren’s experience, offices with more millennials and Gen Z folks are bringing a fresh perspective to all things work-related, especially in corporate spaces. It’s kind of like how "business casual" means you can get away with a chill dress with flats at one job or slacks and a crop top with nice sneakers at another. It really just depends, so be sure to read the room! If you see other couples open about their relationship at work, chances are it’s going to be OK for you, too!
What’s your professional relationship with your work crush?
So, dating another employee is allowed at your job. Dope! But another aspect to consider is whether your work crush is your boss or someone who reports to you directly. If they are in either of those roles, it’s best to steer clear of shooting your shot all together. Just sit on the bench.
"You do not want a relationship to undermine your success, nor do you want others to assume your progress is only due to who you are dating," Goren says. If you’re hooking up with your boss or sleeping with your assistant, projects, performance reviews, promotions and even layoffs can get super messy.
If you really feel like your boss or junior team member is "the one," Goren says you can try talking to HR and seeing if you can transfer teams.
Are they into you? If not, leave it alone.
Not sure if your work crush buys you lunch because you’re their favorite on the team or they’re dropping hints that they want to smash? Do some sleuthing and some good ol’ Instagram stalking. "If you are not sure how a coworker would respond, try to ask around and see if they have expressed romantic interest in you before," Goren suggests. "Casually bringing this topic up to others is a safe way to find out if they may have said something, and to confirm that they are indeed single."
Dr. Jessica M. Smedley, a clinical psychologist and active member of the American Psychological Association, says your should not not proceed if asking your work crush out if it would make them uncomfortable. "If you sense there is not a mutual interest, or any sense of discomfort do not proceed. Sexual harassment in the workplace is more common than is reported and you don’t want to take any chances if a person is presenting in a vague or distant manner," Medley says.
With the Tarana Burke’s #MeToo Movement gaining more visibility in recent years, more conversations, both positive and negative, are happening about sex, consent, boundaries, and the workplace. The main goal is to make sure that everyone, both you and your work crush, feel comfortable and safe at work.
If so, ask them out in a safe and respectful way.
So, dating at work is OK and you have strong evidence that your work crush is feeling you, too. What now? Well, if there aren’t any glaring red flags, Smedley says, have a casual, brief convo with them. "Invite them for coffee or lunch, separate from the work space and hours. If they accept, save the more personal and intentional conversation for that time. Notice I said ‘intentional,’" Smedley emphasizes. "Be clear about your interests and goals for getting to know one another."
Goren adds that you should def ask your coworker out in a "comfortable place, that does not put either of you in a position of power." For example, asking your assistant or team member’s assistant out for coffee in the kitchen or the common area is better vibe than say in your office, with the door shut. "Make sure that person feels as though they are an equal," Goren says. "They should not feel intimidated and therefore obligated to accept."
As is the case with any romantic or sexual rejection, be respectful if they turn you down. And since you’re probably at work (or will at least, have to see your crush at work eventually), try to diffuse the situation. "You may consider asking about current projects they are working on or other work-related topics to show you are still interested in casual conversation," Goren says. "Avoiding them altogether can create awkwardness and leave both parties unsure of how to act moving forward." So for the sake of your job? Be cool. And even if the moment is awkward, acknowledge it, keep pushing ahead, and give your feelings for your work crush the pink slip.
Make sure you’re on the same page.
Assuming the two of you went out for coffee or dinner, you should say something to the effect of, “I’m enjoying our conversation and appreciate your time. How does this feel to you? Can we do this again?” Essentially, check in and keep checking in.
Not only is it respectful, Smedley says, "But is also empowering to each party to ensure their voice is heard, needs are met, and boundaries are established." It also prevents assumptions, which can often lead to disappointment later.
Be super upfront about what kind of relationship you’re looking for: short-term, long-term, romantic relationship, semester-long fling, et cetera. TBH, that’s a solid practice that’s for every romantic/sexual relationship, not just those with coworkers!
Establish boundaries and get some space!
Establishing boundaries is another good practice that should happen in all relationships — but this one is particularly important with a work bae. If you’re going to be seeing them at work and snuggled up in your sheets, be intentional. Discuss what times at work are for chit-chatting, and what you can and can’t discuss in the office.
Another helpful tidbit Smedley offers here is that "everyone may not need to know you’re dating." Double-check your company’s policy on workplace dating, and see if keeping it on the DL or being transparent about it is required. Talk to work bae about it and see if you’re on the same page.
Beyond disclosing or not disclosing your relationship to your coworkers, there is also the question of kissing, flirty jokes, and PDA. Even if it may be OK by company policy standards, make sure you’re not making your colleagues feel some type of way about it. "You need to make sure the environment you work in — and your other coworkers — feel comfortable when they are near you as a couple," Goren says. "You don’t want to alienate anyone due to the change in your relationship."
You should also prioritize your alone time or the time you’ve carved out for friends, since you and your boo will be seeing each other more often than the average couple. Keep that Wednesday night dance class with your crew. Don’t just pop up to your work bae’s standing lunch date with their other friends if you haven’t in the past. Not only is it natural to need space in a romantic relationship, but it’s also healthy, Smedley says.
Make a break-up plan.
Breaking up can be dicey, and breaking up with someone you work with can be even dicier. But that shouldn’t prevent you from going your separate ways if it’s necessary! "While this may seem pessimistic, realism is important. You have to know yourself, and if you would not feel comfortable working side-by-side with this person in the event of a breakup, you must outline a Plan B," Goren says.
More than gauging how your work bae would be in a breakup, be honest about how you would be in a breakup. "Let’s be real," Smedley says. "Some of us still have some inner ‘petty’ to continue working on, and if things don’t work out it may not be pretty for you or your partner."
Even if you wouldn’t be petty (and you’d just be sad), ask yourself the hard questions. Would you still be able to be productive? Would you or your work bae be willing to transfer roles or leave your job because of it? Again, clear up the confusion now so you’re not kicking yourself later.
At the end of the day, you can’t help who you’re attracted to. But you can control how you proceed and whether that is under the best possible circumstances. You can also ensure that it doesn’t put your job or someone else’s job in trouble.
"Dating in general can be tricky," Smedley says. "The better your know yourself and the more confident you are in yourself, including strengths and weaknesses, the better success you’ll have in attracting a partner that is likeminded and functioning on similar wavelength as you."
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